Great Space | In Good Spir­its

Artist in Res­i­dence dis­tillery mas­ters in­dus­trial-chic

Ottawa Magazine - - GREAT SPACE - BY SARAH BROWN

Artist in Res­i­dence (AIR) is a sleek 15,000-square-foot dis­tillery and com­pany HQ set in an unas­sum­ing in­dus­trial park in the shadow of the Gatineau-Ot­tawa Ex­ec­u­tive Air­port. The look and lo­ca­tion are at once in­con­gru­ous and so very log­i­cal. Founder Pierre Man­tha’s modern mi­cro-dis­tillery sits next to a spring­wa­ter source and near the very corn­fields that sup­ply the grain to his dis­tillery.

Man­tha was de­ter­mined that the dis­tillery build­ing be used to frame AIR’s story — free-spir­ited and un­con­ven­tional. To tie all his ideas to­gether, he brought in de­signer Kayla Pon­grac of Iron and Ivory. Light and bright, the three-storey space she has imag­ined en­com­passes Man­tha’s vi­sion while also wel­com­ing the vis­i­tor and ref­er­enc­ing the dis­tillery’s util­i­tar­ian na­ture.

On the main floor, a full wall of win­dows en­sures that light streams in and the cop­per stills glow, their lus­tre ac­cen­tu­ated against a back­drop of black cor­ru­gated steel. Above that back­drop is a plain white wall. When time per­mits, it will be adorned with black graf­fiti-in­spired art telling the story of AIR’s var­i­ous brands.

In the third-floor show­room, Pon­grac mir­rors the sen­su­ous curves and colours of the stills with an ex­pan­sive cop­per-clad bar that in­vites tasters to grab a seat and stay awhile. Here, again, there is an in­dus­trial vibe, but one that has been warmed and made more invit­ing. Yes, there’s that con­crete floor again, an ex­posed ceil­ing, and black me­tal bases on the lounge chairs. But each of th­ese el­e­ments is sub­tly warmer now — the floor pol­ished to a high sheen, the ceil­ing fea­tur­ing sus­pended wooden boards and hang­ing ivy, the chairs up­hol­stered in a rich emer­ald green. In­dus­try meets lux­ury.

Logic and art are in­ter­twined in AIR’s prod­ucts, too, with Man­tha ty­ing each spirit to a par­tic­u­lar artist. The first, Waxwing Bo­hemian Gin, fea­tures a la­bel by Toronto’s Vic­tor Wong, the creative mind be­hind Zo­ol­o­gist Per­fumes. Why a lesser-known Cana­dian bird as an am­bas­sador for gin? “It eats berries, which are used to make gin. And if they’re fer­ment­ing, it might get a bit drunk,” Man­tha ex­plains. Wong took those ideas and sketched a dis­tinctly suave waxwing sport­ing a bomber jacket and a scarf sub­tly printed with berries.

Work­ing with artists also fits with the over­all un­ortho­dox ap­proach to the busi­ness. AIR has no uni­fied brand. In­stead, each new prod­uct re­flects the vi­sion of an in­di­vid­ual artist — Waxwing has a retro vibe, Vod­ka­light looks slick and ex­pen­sive, and May­haven, a gin­ger liquor, ref­er­ences the club scene.

Al­ready, Man­tha has fielded mul­ti­ple calls ask­ing whether AIR’s third floor is avail­able to rent for pri­vate events. For now, though, the plan is to use the space only for gath­er­ings hosted by the dis­tillery. Plans for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture in­clude a lim­ited num­ber of tast­ing nights for bar­tenders and other in­dus­try in­flu­encers, as well as small tours. And so Man­tha is think­ing big but start­ing small on the event side. But those lucky few who score an in­vite will ap­pre­ci­ate the venue al­most as much as the cock­tails, for just as Artist in Res­i­dence em­braces a bold ap­proach to spirit-mak­ing, so, too, the build­ing em­bod­ies a bright and shiny op­ti­mism.

Be­low: Founder Pierre Man­tha has em­braced an un­ortho­dox ap­proach to the busi­ness. AiR has no uni­fied “brand.” In­stead, each new spirit re­flects the vi­sion of an in­di­vid­ual artist

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